...HELLO- SA WAT DEE KA (FEMALE)/SA WAT DEE KRAP (MALE)... GOODBYE- SA WAT DEE KA/SA WAT DEE KRAP... THANK YOU- KOP KUN KA/KOP KUN KRAP...
WHERE TO SLEEP
This budget hotel has a prime location within the walled city of Chiang Mai. Located on a quiet street just 5 minutes from the Sunday walking market and across the main road from Wat Phra Singh. I am not usually one to recommend budget properties but this newly built hotel is clean and modern, every room has a balcony overlooking the pool and the staff couldn't be nicer. If you come through Bangkok check out their sister hotel with the same name.
WHERE TO EAT
First a little note about eating in Thailand- It is not always easy to find the names of restaurants while dining in SE Asia. You usually rely on photos of the exterior of buildings or wing it and try a little of everything. None of the restaurants listed on this page have websites so I've done my best to link them to a facebook page or tripadvisor review. The most important thing to remember (especially if you are from the US) is that Thai food in the states is vastly generalized so step out of your comfort zone and order regional cuisine, you can't be disappointed!
Recommended by friend, J.J. Goode who co-wrote the Pok Pok cookbook with chef Andy Ricker. Most of our recommendations came via J.J. but this one was our favorite, so much so that we ate here every day for a week. Like most other restaurants in Chiang Mai, SP Chicken has an open air, no frills dining rooms with toilet paper for napkins and bright oilcloth tablecloths. Upon arrival there is an intense aroma of garlic which is being hand peeled by two women while the cook mans a vertical chicken spit lined with 10 chickens. Don't miss the ribs, marigold greens, grilled pork and of course the whole chicken.
Lam Duan Khao Soi
Khao soi is a traditional northern Thai dish consisting of a chicken and pork broth with coconut cream, fresh noodles and crunchy noodles on top. It is typically served with pickled greens. This particular restaurant is a little outside of the main part of town so take a tuk tuk.
This restaurant just outside of the the old city's walls has been open since 1957. Although it is famous for its curry dishes there are other menu items as well. When I was there I decided to try a few of their curries, my favorite being the pork curry with ginger. Don't be deterred by the large number of foreigners you may encounter there, this is definitely an authentic Thai eatery.
Don't underestimate eating at the markets, there are some incredible things to be had at all of them. My dad and my husband are big fans of what they like to call "sticks" which is basically meat on a skewer but my favorite dish to get at the markets is somtam, a green papaya salad with lime, palm sugar, Thai chilies, fish sauce, peanuts and either dried shrimp or crab. Make sure to specify how spicy you want your somtam though, the Thai don't play with those chilies.
Like I mentioned in the foreword to this section, it is not always easy to find a name much less a website for a lot of restaurants in Chiang Mai. All I can say is find a duck noodle spot for sure! I ate duck noodles for breakfast most mornings with a hot cup of Thai coffee.
WHAT TO DO
Wat Phra That Doi Suthep
On a clear and sunny day you can see this huge, golden temple towering over Chiang Mai from its perch on the mountain Doi Suthep. This wat is located about 10 miles outside of Chiang Mai so there are a number of ways to reach it. After asking a few tuk tuk drivers to take us there we were finally told they were no longer allowed to but could take us to the "bus stop" where we could catch a ride there. The "bus stop" is located near the university and it is actually a series of camper top pickup trucks, all of this is legit so don't be worried but DEFINITELY take a dramamine if you get car sick. Once there you will be greeted by two naga dragons at the base of 309 steps. Once inside you can view the original holy chedi as well as numerous pagodas, shrines, bells and statues. You must be appropriately dressed, no shorts or revealing clothing, to enter the temple and be prepared to take your shoes off to walk the temple grounds.
Wat Phra Singh
Located within the old city walls is this ornate Buddhist temple which was built in 1345. Worshippers come here to pay homage to the Lion Buddha, Phra Singh. This wat has a number of buildings within its gates including a monastic library, all beautifully designed with teak and brass. The temple is also home to 700 monks who study and live here.
This market is home to a number of local artisans and craftsman from Northern Thailand. Most of the vendors at this market are selling handmade goods from local products like silk, teak, ceramic, glass, or paper. Unlike the Night Bazaar, you won't see too many cheap, imitation designers here. You can also find a plethora of street food at this late afternoon/night market that runs from 4pm-midnight.
Open every day of the year, this huge market spans about 1 square kilometer just outside of the walled city. You can find everything from knockoff clothing brands to DVDs to locally made Thai goods. There are two offshoots of this market which bleed into this one (honestly you probably won't even realize you've walked out of one and into the other) called the Anusarn and Kalare Night Bazaars. Remember, don't be afraid to bargain at these markets, it is expected that one will haggle a price down and it is all good natured fun.
This daytime market is where all of the locals do their shopping. You can find almost anything here, including things you can't find at the more touristy night markets. The interior houses a huge food market that has things as simple as dried fruits and fresh baked goods to the somewhat exotic like live snakes and turtles. Along the outside is an incredible flower market that thankfully disguises some of the smells of the butchering area behind it. The backside of this market is home to Hill Tribe artisans who are selling textiles and other northern Thai handicrafts. If you want a dose of a truly Thai market, this is the one to visit in my opinion.
Chang Puak Gate Market
This small market situated just outside the Chang Puak Gate has the usual local craft makers and a selection of street food. It is definitely a less overwhelming shopping experience compared to the other markets of Chiang Mai and is perfect for any last minute souvenirs or snacks before leaving town.
★Chiang Mai Cabaret at Anusarn Market
My favorite memory from my trip to Chiang Mai was seeing a ladyboy show. These ladyboys belong on Broadway! Well at least in Vegas. For a few bucks you gain entrance to a 2 hour long cabaret show with incredible costumes, dancing, and lip syncing to popular songs. If we hadn't gone our last night in town I would've returned the following night. In my opinion this is a quintessential experience not to be missed when in Thailand.
★Thai Massage or Foot Massage
DO NOT SLEEP ON THIS, I repeat don't not get a massage while in Thailand. I was in Chiang Mai for a week and I got a $5, hour long foot rub every day I was there. I also got a full body Thai massage to the tune of $15. There are foot massage and thai massage parlors all over Chiang Mai, you can't really go wrong at any of them.
Drink a coconut
Did you know that almost all of the coconut water imported to the US is from Thailand? Yea, well here is your chance to get it straight from the source. There are little carts roaming the city that have fresh coconuts ready to be chopped open and served to you.
If you happen to be in Chiang Mai during a festival or holiday don't miss going to one of the hundreds of wats that will be releasing lanterns. For a small donation to the monks you can write your name on one of the paper lanterns, say a prayer and then release it to the heavens.
See a tailor
Before coming to Thailand make sure to have a design handy to bring to your tailor. It can be a pattern, the actual piece of clothing or even a picture. It is so affordable to have quality clothing made super fast in Thailand. We had 3 custom silk suits handmade and tailored in the one week we were there!